Sawadee krup, Greetings from Thailand!Ya, lots of strange things have been happening lately. My website got wiped out (If anyone visited it recently before it was zapped, and has a copy of the last few entries still in their cache, please send me a copy!) and now I'm in Thailand.
As anyone who's been reading this knows, things have been getting interesting in Bangladesh. The elections are coming in a few days, and the US might attack Afganistan. There were two efficy burningsof Bush in Patia, but none was really directed at Americans. I felt safe in my community and everyone was expressing sympathy and support for me. There were some ackward moments I'll admit, but nothign to bad. We all grieved together for the great tragedy in New York and for the deaths here from political violence.
But such was not the case all over Bangladesh. Some places started to become unsafe, which people saying "Osama bin Laden" to some volunteers as they walked by or other kinds of incidents. No one was hurt, but it was decided that everyone should be brought into Dhaka for safety. When I got the call to consoladate, the message also included the instructions to empty our bank accounts and bring any important papers, pictures, or other personal effects that you might want to have in case we have to evacuate.
This was a great frustration. I've been getting some momentum in my classes. I'm helping them get ready for their first exams in the middle of October. I'm adminstering practice TOEFL exams. On was schedualed for yesterday, but I was on a plane to Thailand at that time. I have reschedualed it for October 4, so I had better be back by then.
So while on the way to Dhaka, the plans were changed again and when I arrived at the hotel, I was told that we're leaving for Thailand the next day. What? Yup, my second foreign country. I had actually thought about visiting Thailand for a vacation, but ruled it out as being too far away, too modern, and too expensive. I was angry about leaving Bangladesh, which is now my home. I was angry that I had told everyone that I'm going back in a week, and that if we leave the country, it's possible we'll never come back. But there was also a part of me, the part that remembers the difficult times, that was wondering if this might be some sort of second chance. An opportunity to wipe the slate clean, both the achievements and failures, and start again in another country. It was a strange mental tug of war.
It was a strange coincidence that the mosque near the bus stand got a new mullah for the call to prayer (azan) a few days ago. I noticed the change on the Monday night - the day I got the call to come to Dhaka on Wednesday with my possessions. I had just finished up a long day of teaching, frantically making lists of things to do, loose ends to tie up, etc, when I went out to get some photocopying done. The sun was just setting as I walked past the mosque when the call to prayer began. It was dusk, the busses seemed quieter for some reason, and people were staring at me in a ghostly manner. The azan was the saddest and most surreal call that I had ever heard in my life. The tears began to form in my eyes as I wondered if I was in a dream or a National Geographic documentary. The people just glided past, their talking reaching my ears through some sort of tunnel. Things in slowed motion, with darkness rapidly encroaching, and a thick pollution wandering around near the ground. The call continued, slow and melancoly as I watched myself walk slowly down the streat, like the end of a movie and everyone waiting for the credits to strat rolling.
The last person I spoke to is Moni. How fitting. The 14-year-old Muslim girl who seems to understand what I'm trying to say even when my Bangla is more like Swahili. She's so patient with me and has the kindest smile in Bangladesh. I secretly fear watching her grow up. I'm worried that once she hits puberty, she'll start to be hidden from society, her movement restricted more, and she'll have to face the reality that one day she'll be married off without her consultation and expected to sit inside for the rest of her life behind a veil. She has so much potentional, so much personality. I want to adopt her and bring her home with me.
On the way out of Chittagong, I met up with one of the street kids that I met on my way to Mymensingh for the Superintendant's conference. I had printed her picture as a 4x6 and was just waiting to get some more pictures together so that I could laminate them all at the same time. Then I was going to find her and give it to her. She recognized me immediatly and asked me where the picture was. Since I had all my pictures and negatives with me, I was able to show her. She was wearing the same dress, probably her only dress, that she was several months ago. Her smile big, and her eyes amazed at her own image on the paper.
I explained to her that the humidity will ruin the picture if I don't laminate it. So I told her to wait a little longer. She asked me for some money, and again I refused. And after a few times she remembered that I won't give her any. But I took another picture, with the new camera I bought in Bangladesh which is taking great pictures, and inspected her finger which she had cut and had wrapped with cloth. She's not starving by any means, but she's poor, her father is dead, she's malnurioused, and uneducated. She doesn't know her age or her birthday. She's probably also close to 14, but she's about the height of an 8 year old. She's my sister, and I'm her brother. She fights for me - when the adult beggars came to me, she told them not to beg and proudly proclaimed that I had taken her picture and that she would be getting a copy soon. She's probably the most popular person on the block. So I have to return to give her the picture.
In all honesty and candor, I think we're going back and that the office is just erring on the side of caution. We're making this into a conference for a week and we'll probably all go back to site and get back to work. Who knows, after getting everyone back together, perhaps we'll all work together a little bit better in a coordinated effort instead of the random struggles here and there. I'd definately like some support at other P.T.I.s to fight the cheating problems.
But now I'm in Bangkok, Thailand and I'm surprised how fast Bangladesh fades from my mind. It happened with my job back in America as well. I thought that I would think about all of the things I forgot to do and worry constantly about the daily functions of the lab, but I forgot about it quickly. Now that I'm in Thailand, a whole 24 hours now, I've picked up a few words, leared a few of the streets, and am starting to feel at home. It's an amazing place here. I've seen the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand which looked to be 3-4 stories tall and a good 100-150 feet long. It was possitively massive. There's a strange energy in this city. There are shrines everywhere. You'll find little flower garlands on trees, small shrines on almost every corner and in little places you'd never expect to see them. You'll find monks walking the streets in their orange robes, and women giving them plenty of room when they pass as they are forbidden to ever touch a woman, even by accident. The gold spires reach to the sky in very ornate and intricate details. There's an energy, I don't know any other way to say it. I'm glad I have a decent camera now.
Well, that's all for today. I'm going to grab some dinner and head back to the hotel to try and digest more of what's going on and finish up some work I brought with me. If anyone out there happens to have any copies of the entries I lost (perhaps in your cache file), please send it to me! I'd love to get the last entry back up after the server crash. I'll try to do a better job of backing up my site!